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Craigslist Casual Encounters Cast Under Spotlight

Craigslist, the online classifieds website, has come under scrutiny once more for its “Casual Encounters” section which allows users to search for anything from casual sex partners to one-night-stands.

According to Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, the Casual Encounters section of the website “was created in response to user demand for a section that allowed for a wide range of personal meeting and relationship options.” (New York Times)

Basically, the users asked for it so Craigslist delivered.

The forum, which was introduced in 2000, provides users to choose from personal advertisements posted by gay, straight, male and female members. Ads in the Casual Encounters section make up 2 percent of all Craigslist postings.

Questions and concerns regarding the legitimacy and legality of such personal advertisements, however, have placed the Craigslist Casual Encounters section under the spotlight once again.

On March 5, Sheriff Thomas Dart of Cook County, Ill., said at a news conference that the site was the “largest source of prostitution in America,” and filed a civil lawsuit to get Craigslist’s erotic personals shut down. (Wall Street Journal)

“They’ve actually catered their site so it facilitates (prostitution), where you can actually and more specifically and quickly get to what you want,” Dart said. “How is that different than somebody who’s aggressively and actively working with a pimp to try and get the words out about the women working for him?” (Wall Street Journal)

Prostitution on the site is a reality that no one is arguing with. According to the New York Times, in 2006 Nassau County set up a prostitution sting on Craigslist that routinely arrested prostitutes who were using the site. Craigslist responded to the investigation by charging a $5 fee and required the posting of phone numbers for anybody offering erotic acts. A statement released by the company said that the change resulted in an 80 percent drop in postings to that section.

So who should be held responsible for the posting of such advertisements in the first place? Since Dart’s news conference in May, a federal court has ruled that the site is immune to any liability for what a third party posts, so long as the site doesn’t directly help to create the content.

In a blog post by chief executive of Craigslist, Jim Buckmaster said that the site does not tolerate illegal activity and supported the fact that Craigslist has taken steps to try and reduce the amount of illegal activity that is currently taking place. (Wall Street Journal)

Although solicited sex online will continue to cause controversy until regulations ban the offerings of such acts, the Casual Encounters section of Craigslist will continue to function and flourish, constantly under the spotlight.